CryoTEM as an advanced analytical tool for materials chemists

J.P. Patterson, Y. Xu, M.A. Moradi, N.A.J.M. Sommerdijk, H. Friedrich

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Morphology plays an essential role in chemistry through the segregation of atoms and/or molecules into different phases, delineated by interfaces. This is a general process in materials synthesis and exploited in many fields including colloid chemistry, heterogeneous catalysis, and functional molecular systems. To rationally design complex materials, we must understand and control morphology evolution. Toward this goal, we utilize cryogenic transmission electron microscopy (cryoTEM), which can track the structural evolution of materials in solution with nanometer spatial resolution and a temporal resolution of <1 s.In this Account, we review examples of our own research where direct observations by cryoTEM have been essential to understanding morphology evolution in macromolecular self-assembly, inorganic nucleation and growth, and the cooperative evolution of hybrid materials. These three different research areas are at the heart of our approach to materials chemistry where we take inspiration from the myriad examples of complex materials in Nature. Biological materials are formed using a limited number of chemical components and under ambient conditions, and their formation pathways were refined during biological evolution by enormous trial and error approaches to self-organization and biomineralization. By combining the information on what is possible in nature and by focusing on a limited number of chemical components, we aim to provide an essential insight into the role of structure evolution in materials synthesis. Bone, for example, is a hierarchical and hybrid material which is lightweight, yet strong and hard. It is formed by the hierarchical self-assembly of collagen into a macromolecular template with nano- and microscale structure. This template then directs the nucleation and growth of oriented, nanoscale calcium phosphate crystals to form the composite material. Fundamental insight into controlling these structuring processes will eventually allow us to design such complex materials with predetermined and potentially unique properties.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1495-1501
Number of pages7
JournalAccounts of Chemical Research
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jul 2017


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